Sunday, February 11, 2024


Picture my astonishment, when reading Keiji Nishitani, to find a Buddhist Heideggerian soberly discussing sin, for all the world as though it was allowed, as though it were something that could stand the steady, corrosive gaze of a modern philosopher; as though it was something that had to be reckoned with. I have not yet gotten over the surprise. I still have not really read very much, and most of the modern philosophers I have met, by chance, have been timid creatures who want to live in orderly houses, where they can be depressed in decent comfort and privacy: they would certainly not admit a concept that might blow the roof off their house, let alone blast a hole in the floor.


So. The point is, that I was taking myself to task: I should be thinking about the One, in all its multiplicity -- of God, if you want to use that word -- and how I should or could or might turn towards it: but whenever I began I veered into trivial thoughts of what I needed to do to stop overeating and make sure I got regular exercise. For God's sake, Dale. Grow up.

But then I backed up a little bit and asked myself: are you so sure that these two things have nothing to do with each other? That they're not, in some difficult-to-grasp way, the same question? And as soon as I thought that, that little fragment of Middle English verse came into my head: Adam lay ybounden, ybounden in a bonde... and kept flittering around my head. These little tendrils of habit, this commitment to excessive comfort and relentless stimulation -- what if that is, precisely, what is binding me? And the two wheels converged. The same spin, the same speed. This is in fact one wheel. I don't know exactly how, but I know that it is; and that it stands in some relation to that queer foreign concept of sin.

It's not that I imagine God gives a tinker's damn, let alone one of his own, whether my pants fit. It's the contortion, the throttling of one part of my mind by another part. The striving and writhing in a narrow, airless space. Ybounden in a bonde. The fact that it's an undignified struggle -- that's just one more reason to think it's the one to lean into. 

Not the only struggle, of course, nor one I can (or necessarily want to) win. It's a well-trampled ground and I no longer think that local victories and defeats are going to lead to sweeping breakthroughs: it's not that sort of fight . If I eventually manage to get some distance from it, it won't be because the battle's over, but because I'm no longer invested in it in the same way; which is not the same thing as pretending it's not going on. It's a flicker on wall, the pattern of lights a small boy glimpses moving on the wall as he falls asleep. Real enough, but due to be washed away by morning.

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